The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Albums & Songs of 2020

Best of 2020 - Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, Hum, Fleet Foxes

Wow, 2020 … what can we say? This year will certainly be remembered for a lot of things, but none more so than the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged both the U.S. and world over the last 10 months and forced the live music industry to mostly shutter as musicians pivoted to livestreams and drive-in concerts to keep the show going as best they could and however possible. Yet along the way, we lost musical legends who spanned multiple generations from Neil Peart to Bill Withers to John Prine to Little Richard to Eddie Van Halen to MF DOOM — some due to COVID-19 unfortunately — making these past 12 months even more painful to endure than they already were. Ready to officially flush 2020 down the toilet and start anew? Don’t worry … you’re not alone!

In retrospect though, it has been a very quiet year for The Bam Team. You’ll notice there haven’t been a lot of updates in this space, and that’s partly due to the lack of live music on Planet Earth right now. But it’s also been a hectic time for all of us as we try to navigate our way out of these dark days and into some brighter ones, and like any good remedy nowadays, new music has definitely played its part in helping us physically and emotionally cope with the chaos.

It’s why after several months of inactivity here, we decided to dust the cobwebs off Showbams and deliver a modified version of our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first started (see our 2019 picks here). While that doesn’t mean we had time to hear and dissect every new album or song in the last 365 days — we are still in a pandemic after all — sharing our own individual picks offers a fun and stimulating opportunity for us to reflect on the year that was in music.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite albums and songs from 2020.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2020:


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
One might think that after three critically acclaimed albums with some of the most socially and politically charged material since Rage Against the Machine burst onto the scene, it would only seem natural for Run the Jewels’ act to turn a little stale by their fourth time around. But despite the three-year wait for RTJ4, the longest that the hip-hop duo has gone between releases, the final product — like a fine wine — has only gotten better with time. Anchored by stellar production (a RTJ trademark) and provocative rhymes, the 11-track offering sees the two emcees sounding off on everything from corporate greed to police brutality just days after the tragic death of George Floyd. It also boasts a guest list loaded with star power, with DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme each lending a hand while El-P and Killer Mike inject truth serum into our ears with one verbal haymaker after another. In what proved to be a shitstorm of a year, this was the soundtrack a lot of us needed to survive 2020.

2. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
3. Fleet Foxes – Shore
4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
5. Caribou – Suddenly

Favorite live album: Sylvan Esso – WITH

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Royal Blood – “Trouble’s Coming”
The British rock duo composed of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are gearing up to drop their third LP in 2021 and wisely chose to wet our palette with an absolute banger for its lead single. “Trouble’s Coming” has all the makings of a Royal Blood song — catchy bass riffs that sound like they’re coming out of a guitar, heavy-metal drums and Kerr’s falsetto vocals — while charting a slightly different path for the band, one that conjures up some serious 70’s disco vibes. Just watch this scene from Charlie’s Angels to see what we mean, and if you have a pair of fingerless leather gloves handy, you might as well put those on too. We think Sam Rockwell would approve.

2. My Morning Jacket – “Wasted”
3. Run the Jewels – “JU$T” feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha
4. Pearl Jam – “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
5. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Favorite remix: Bonobo – “Final Days” (Michael Kiwanuka)


Hum - Inlet

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Hum – Inlet
This four-piece’s fifth studio effort came as a complete surprise when it dropped in June, and it was honestly THE album I needed. Being knee-deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the year would look like musically, and it was exactly the type of record that hits all the marks for me. It’s sonically huge, it showcases Hum’s trademark ultra-layered, dense instrumentation and it ebbs and flows between energetic and emotive. Inlet was easily my most-listened-to album in 2020.

2. Coriky – Coriky
3. PEARS – PEARS
4. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Favorite live album: NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
Oh man, this track was just the thing I needed during what may have been one of the most tense times in modern history. And like all of RTJ4, it absolutely crushes as El-P and Killer Mike bring their signature styles to full effect on this dramatic, yet bouncy tune. The middle section, which sees Mike taking the lead, is not only effective, prophetic and timely, but it also serves as a reminder that the time for action is now and that history has a tendency to repeat itself if we’re not careful. Check out the song’s brand-new music video here, too.

2. Hum – “Desert Rambler”
3. IDLES – “War”
4. Middle-Aged Queers – “Gary’s Making Biscuits”
5. PEARS – “Zero Wheels”

Favorite remix: Squarepusher – “Pink Maggit” (Deftones)


Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I almost feel cheated that my two No. 1 picks went to the same artist, but this year belonged to Fiona as much as it did to Dr. Fauci. FTBC busted us out of our mental prisons and allowed us to imagine our lives were more exciting than they actually were in 2020. It reminded us that we are strong enough to survive anything, to use our voices to speak even louder for what we believe in and that we can work on our own healing even if we can’t quite get outside. Ms. Apple set women free together.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore
3. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
4. Kari Faux – Lowkey Superstar
5. Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…

Favorite live album: Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club – Live at O’Leaver’s

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
This is a badass, “can-do” tune that was inspired by a passing comment made decades ago, one Fiona surely never thought twice about until now. And as she pounds the piano with the strength of RBG, it’s clear that this is the song 2020 needed — not to mention that it came full circle, inspiring Shameika herself all these years later. Sweet.

2. Noname – “Song 33”
3. Open Mike Eagle feat. Kari Faux – “Bucciarati”
4. Liv.e – “Lessons From My Mistakes…but I Lost Your Number”
5. Quakers feat. Sampa the Great – “Approach with Caution”

Favorite remix: Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000 – “Dragonball Durag”

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Cal Jam 18: The closest we might ever get to seeing Nirvana perform as Foo Fighters take us ‘way back’

Cal Jam 18 - Foo FightersBy Josh Herwitt //

Cal Jam 18 //
Glen Helen Regional Park & Festival Grounds – San Bernardino, CA
October 6th, 2018 //

When Dave Grohl decided last year to revive the original California Jam (or Cal Jam for short), there was something intriguing about the Foo Fighters turning a once-banner event into their own mini music festival.

After all, this was the same event that Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake & Palmer co-headlined at the now-demolished Ontario Motor Speedway in the spring of 1974, with Black Sabbath, the Eagles, Earth, Wind & Fire and more rounding out the bill.

But as major music festivals on U.S. soil have started to move away from rock ‘n’ roll — take a look at this year’s Coachella lineup if you don’t believe us — there have been fewer and fewer that are embracing the roughly 70-year-old genre.

That hasn’t deterred Grohl, though. In fact, it has only enticed him to bring Cal Jam back for a second straight year following a stellar 2017 edition that included the Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age, Cage the Elephant, Liam Gallagher, The Kills, Royal Blood, Japandroids and so many more, including the UK’s latest Mercury Prize winners, Wolf Alice.

And although Cal Jam’s 2018 cast wasn’t quite as eye-popping as the one that took Glen Helen Regional Park by storm last October, it continued to expand in both size and scope with a new comedy tent on the grounds and a pop-up event in LA six weeks before that saw the Foos play a rare show as The Holy Shits, a secret moniker the band hasn’t used since 2014.

Cal Jam 18 - Greta Van Fleet


Greta Van Fleet

For this year’s installment, Grohl and company assembled another rock-centric roster, turning to legends like Iggy Pop with Post Pop Depression (featuring members of Queens of Stone Age and Arctic Monkeys), Tenacious D and Garbage as well as rising stars such as Greta Van Fleet, Manchester Orchestra and The Front Bottoms. Silversun Pickups were also originally listed on the bill, but were forced to cancel their appearance due to “unforeseen circumstances.” While it was certainly a bummer that the LA alt-rockers couldn’t make it out to San Bernardino, that didn’t stop us from making the 70-mile trek to the country’s largest outdoor music venue on a warm fall Saturday.

By the time we got through security and stepped inside the gates, Manchester Orchestra had just finished their 45-minute set on the main stage, which essentially was the 65,000-person Glen Helen Amphitheater that was constructed back in 1982 for the first US Festival. Next up was Greta Van Fleet, and boy, do these kids know how to rock. Zeppelin clearly runs deep in these four Michiganders’ veins, as they showcased songs off their forthcoming debut album Anthem of the Peaceful Army with frontman Josh Kiszka commanding the stage and offering his best Robert Plant impression. He even dresses the part, sporting some tight, white jeans with a water-colored blouse and necklace of feathers while his brothers Jake and Sam wore vests or shirts that looked like what you would find at a vintage clothing store.

If Greta Van Fleet evoked the spirit of the 70’s during their hour-long gig, Garbage made sure to conjure up plenty of 90’s nostalgia as Shirley Manson arrived onstage with red hair pulled back, a stripe of red face paint over her eyes, a red choker and a black-and-white ombré faux fur coat because it couldn’t have been real given her well-publicized support for PETA dating back more than a decade. Manson would eventually shed that one layer of warmth, revealing a black romper, red sweatbands and red fishnet stockings underneath as she and her cohorts — Duke Erikson (guitar, bass, keyboards), Steve Marker (guitar) and famed Nirvana producer Butch Vig (drums, percussion) — opened with their 2017 single “No Horses” on a surprisingly overcast day. Yet, the most memorable moment of Garbage’s performance came during “Only Happy When It Rains” — not because it’s still the quartet’s most popular song to this day, but because a few sprinkles, coincidentally enough, dropped from the dark, ominous sky. Hey, at least Manson must have been happy, right?

Night fell over the Inland Empire shortly thereafter, with Jack Black and Kyle Gass taking the stage for Tenacious D’s first full LA show since Festival Supreme in 2016. Though the 11-song performance hinged on the comedy rock duo’s previous studio material, the D are preparing to release their fourth album — and first in six years — Post-Apocalypto next month. “Double Team” from their 2001 self-titled debut LP, in the meantime, featured snippets of Van Halen’s “Panama” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” before they encored with their cheeky tune “Fuck Her Gently” as the two actors/musicians have been known to do. Nevertheless, it was nice to see Black and Gass back onstage rocking out and making us chuckle because when you start to look around, there still aren’t too many who do what they do.

The same can be said for James Osterberg Jr., or more famously, Iggy Pop. At the age of 71, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hasn’t slowed down, and this was a particularly special occasion with his Post Pop Depression backing band after their 2016 world tour. Truth be told, anytime we get to see Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme play is a treat, and with bandmates Troy Van Leeuwen and Dean Fertita as well as Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders joining him, you couldn’t ask for a better group of musicians to showcase Iggy Pop’s massive catalog as a solo artist. To begin, the foursome jumped right into the title track on Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, his 1977 commercial success, and from there delivered cuts from his other David Bowie-produced album The Idiot and Post Pop Depression. But the leathery, shirtless punk rocker is also a real hoot, and he showed his general appreciation for those of us who stood there and watched him let loose on the main stage, offering an emphatic “fucking thanks!” after pretty much every song ended. In that case … you’re fucking welcome, Iggy.

Cal Jam 18 - Garbage


Garbage

Iggy Pop was a strong lead-in to the Foo Fighters’ headlining spectacle, which was supposed to start at 9:45 p.m. but actually kicked off 15 minutes prior. That’s because, after dropping a little hint earlier in the week, the Foos had something up their sleeves, but more on that in a jiffy. Grohl couldn’t have been in a much better mood, and in a lot of ways, Cal Jam feels like his own personal playground, from the fest’s outdoor movie theatre to the Foo Fighters Rock ‘N’ Roll Museum that’s filled with tons of memorabilia from the past 25 years. But Grohl also made a point on this night to celebrate the band’s history by playing one hit single after the next in chronological order, starting with “Run” and “The Sky Is a Neighborhood” on 2017’s Concrete and Gold and finishing with “For All the Cows” and “This Is a Call” from their 1995 self-titled debut. It was a little trip down memory lane, Foo Fighters style, even though there was more in store for us. What would follow we may never have the opportunity to see again.

As the Foos left the stage for their encore break, we waited patiently for them to return. The crowd, by now, had been taken for a two-hour ride with Grohl firmly at the wheel, pumping adrenaline into our veins with every minute that passed as the Foo Fighters know how to do so well during their usual two-and-a-half-hour jaunts. The video screens on each side of the stage were black until suddenly some backstage footage appeared showing Grohl with Krist Novoselic and what looked like Joan Jett. All of that would end up coming true in the last 30 minutes of Cal Jam 18, but it was a six-song encore with Grohl on drums, Novoselic on bass, the Foo Fighters’ Pat Smear on guitar and Deer Tick frontman John McAuley on both vocals and guitar as Kurt Cobain’s fill-in who got us hyped. Nirvana fans have waited 25 years for a reunion since Cobain’s sudden passing, and when you put it in perspective, it will probably go down as one of the year’s biggest surprises, even at a time in music when many industry experts say that rock now stands in the shadows of hip-hop and EDM. “Serve the Servants” came first, then “Scentless Apprentice” and “In Bloom” as McCauley, who played just a few hours earlier on the festival’s Sun Stage with Deer Tick, sang with the same kind of strain in his voice to make us think Kurt was actually up there.

But what about Jett? Well, the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll followed McCauley’s performance with three songs herself, including “Breed”, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and finally “All Apologies” with Novoselic strapping on his accordion and Brody Dalle of The Distillers (Homme’s wife) taking over bass duties. This wasn’t the first time, however, that Jett had performed Nirvana material with Grohl, Novoselic and Smear. In 2014, the singer-songwriter joined the three of them onstage for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” during the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So while Jett wasn’t exactly making history with this cameo, it was still surreal to see Grohl paying homage to his former band with other All-Star musicians at what has now become the Foos’ annual hometown fest in a matter of two years.

Will Cal Jam be back in 2019? Can it survive Southern California’s ultra-competitive festival scene at a time when proven, well-funded ones like FYF Fest seemingly can’t?

We sure think so and hope so. With the oversaturation of three-day music festivals all over the world, there’s something refreshing and relaxing about watching a bunch of a great bands for a reasonable price over the course of one day. And if we learned anything from Cal Jam 18, it’s that you can never underestimate Dave Grohl or the power of rock ‘n’ roll.

Weezer show a sold-out crowd in their hometown that they can still be wildly entertaining

WeezerBy Josh Herwitt //

Weezer & Pixies with Sleigh Bells //
The Forum – Inglewood, CA
August 8th, 2018 //

It has always been hard for me to take Weezer completely seriously. Of course, when one of your oldest and biggest hits is called “Undone – The Sweater Song” while others like “Pork and Beans” and “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You to” have cultivated their own commercial success, it’s easy to think that the Los Angeles foursome must have shared the stage with Green Jellÿ, Tenacious D or “Weird Al” Yankovic at one point in time over the last 26 years.

Well, one of those whimsical pairings actually became a reality last Wednesday. With a sold-out audience at The Forum welcoming them home during their 30-date, North American co-headlining tour with the Pixies, frontman Rivers Cuomo (lead vocals, lead guitar, keyboards) and his cohorts — Patrick Wilson (drums), Brian Bell (guitar, backing vocals, keyboards) and Scott Shriner (bass, backing vocals) — gave many of us exactly what we wanted to hear near the end of a 20-song set: their now-viral cover of Toto’s single “Africa” from the group’s 1982 album Toto IV.

But what we didn’t expect to see midway through the tune was Cuomo introducing “Weird Al” Yankovic, who stepped onstage in one of his patented Hawaiian shirts and accordion in hand to perform the last half of it with the band. The crowd erupted upon the announcement, with many shocked by what they were witnessing. For me though, the surprise cameo only further validated some of those preconceptions I had about Weezer being one of rock’s goofiest acts.

Pixies


Pixies

That’s not to say that Cuomo isn’t a talented musician. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Harvard grad shreds without question, something I never really realized until he uncorked a number of guitar solos, whether it was during “Buddy Holly” to open Weezer’s performance or “Say It Ain’t So” (with a snippet of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”) to put a bow on the show. And while there aren’t many lead singers who can do both, Cuomo certainly remains among some elite company, with Jack White, Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) also immediately coming to mind.

Cuomo, however, might have all of them beat in one category: costumes. Appearing first in his preppy sweater-and-tie look, he eventually changed into a soccer jersey before later wearing a classic Nirvana T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. If anything, it was even more proof that Weezer don’t take themselves too seriously, considering that the only rock star who I’ve seen live with more costume changes than Cuomo is Axl Rose (and that shouldn’t be very surprising). It’s all part of the band’s playful attitude at the end of the day, and despite the political state that we currently find ourselves in, many of us could use a good laugh or at least a chuckle from time to time (I know I could).

After watching Cuomo and company do their thing for a little more than an hour, there’s no doubt that I have newfound respect for Weezer now. Selling out a 17,505-person arena in the middle of the week is no easy feat, even if the Pixies, who ripped through their own 22-song set in the same amount of time, were on the bill. But there’s a reason why Weezer have been performing second on this tour, and it’s simply because they’re still one of rock’s most wildy entertaining bands out there today — with or without Mr. Yankovic by their side.

WEEZER

Setlist:
Buddy Holly
Beverly Hills
Pork and Beans
Undone – The Sweater Song
Hash Pipe
Perfect Situation
My Name Is Jonas
El Scorcho
In the Garage
The Good Life
Happy Together (The Turtles cover) (with a snippet of “Longview” by Green Day)
Keep Fishin’ (Brian Bell on vocals)
Island in the Sun (Rivers Cuomo solo acoustic)
Take on Me (a‐ha cover) (Rivers Cuomo solo acoustic)
Burndt Jamb (Brian Bell on vocals; with lyrics from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana)
(If You’re Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You to
Feels Like Summer
Africa (Toto cover) (with “Weird Al” Yankovic)

Encore:
Susanne
Say It Ain’t So (with a snippet of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath)

PIXIES

Setlist:
Gouge Away
Wave of Mutilation
U-Mass
Um Chagga Lagga
Isla de Encanta
Caribou
All the Saints
Cactus
Nimrod’s Son
Mr. Grieves
All I Think About Now
Debaser
Classic Masher
Monkey Gone to Heaven
I’ve Been Tired
Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Tame
Hey
Gigantic
Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
Where Is My Mind?
Vamos

In his new hometown, Jim James reminds us why he’s one of the most gifted songwriters out there

Jim JamesBy Josh Herwitt //

Jim James with Twin Limb //
Orpheum Theatre – Los Angeles
December 9th, 2016 //

If you want to know what’s been on Jim James’ mind lately, just listen to his new album Eternally Even. The frontman and primary songwriter for My Morning Jacket released his sophomore solo LP last month just prior to Election Day, and it’s by far his most political effort yet in his ongoing quest to promote worldwide peace, love and equality.

In that regard, you might think James Edward Olliges Jr. sounds like a modern-day hippie. Sure, Jerry Garcia is one of his many heroes (at least according to this Instagram post), but with all the turmoil at home and abroad right now, James’ message remains a particularly important one that each of us should apply to our own lives. Because no matter what your political beliefs are, we can all agree that the world needs more compassion and empathy, right? In the new world order of President-elect Donald Trump, it certainly couldn’t hurt.

But for as inspiring as James’ lyrics are on Eternally Even, it’s his songwriting that shines through brightest. While his debut solo album Regions of Light and Sound of God had its moments, it lacked the cohesiveness that the Louisville native’s latest studio work offers. From the opening notes of “Hide in Plain Sight” to the closing title track, the record flows seamlessly from start to finish — and no song embodies that better than the two-part “We Ain’t Getting Any Younger” (sadly, we aren’t). Neither is James, and yet, at age 38, he has become one of today’s most prolific and gifted songwriters. Between his work in MMJ, indie-folk supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Conor Oberst and M. Ward) and the Dylan-inspired collective known as The New Basement Tapes (featuring Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford and more), it’s incredible that James even has the time to take on another side project, let alone make an album that sounds as good as Eternally Even does in “a couple weeks” from what he told LA Weekly.

Jim James

James is in rare company these days, amid a dying breed of guitar-rock gods like Jack White and Josh Homme who are not only capable of playing anything on six strings, but also on a myriad of instruments. And while Eternally Even feels in some ways like an opportunity for him to finally experiment more with keyboards, James made sure to remind his fans at the 90-year-old Orpheum Theatre last Friday that shredding is still a priority. Performing in his new hometown after officially moving to LA this year, he assumed the role of lead singer for much of the show as he and his bandmates from Twin Limb (also opening for James on this tour) played all of Eternally Even and half of Regions. But propped up by a stand onstage the whole time was James’ black Gibson axe, and you knew at some point during a two-hour set that he was going to unload some sick riffs like we have become accustomed to seeing from him at Jacket shows.

In a similar vein, James’ propensity for live covers extends far outside the realm of MMJ, and at the Orpheum, we were treated to his own renditions of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Set Free” and Parliament’s “Come in Out of the Rain”. He even gave a nod to the New Multitudes, which James formed alongside Jay Farrar, Will Johnson and Anders Parker to commemorate Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday. But no cover resonated more with the crowd than The New Basement Tapes’ “Down on the Bottom”, as James demonstrated why his guitar playing can transfix a near-religious experience for celebrity fanboys like Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays the character “McLovin” in the 2007 movie “Superbad”) only a few rows away from me.

As he has done for most of this tour, James wrapped things up with a forewarning about our growing dependence on technology in the form of “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)”, ripping into one last guitar solo to the sound of cheers from the audience. It was the perfect way to cap off a performance that mixed James’ psychedelic tendencies — his knack for getting weird, if you will — and his undying appreciation for soul music. That sonic marriage ultimately lays a lot of the groundwork for Eternally Even, with James paying homage, whether purposely or not, to his other musical heroes, be it Marvin Gaye or Bill Withers. And although James may not be quite there yet as far as stature goes, we just might look back on him in the same way one day.

Setlist:
Hide in Plain Sight
Know Til Now
Same Old Lie
In the Moment
A New Life
The World’s Smiling Now
True Nature
Dear One
Here in Spirit
I’m Set Free (The Velvet Underground cover)
We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 1
We Ain’t Getting Any Younger Pt. 2
Eternally Even

Encore:
Changing World (New Multitudes cover)
Of the Mother Again
Come in Out of the Rain (Parliament cover)
Down on the Bottom (The New Basement Tapes cover)
State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)

Iggy Pop isn’t letting age slow him down on his ‘Post Pop Depression Tour’

Iggy PopBy Bob Comstock //

Iggy Pop with Novella //
The Masonic – San Francisco
March 31st, 2016 //

As Novella wrapped up her opening set at The Masonic last month, the capacity crowd in SF quickly became antsy for Iggy Pop’s headlining performance.

Novella, after all, is a girl who plays distorted guitar loops with stomp boxes — an artist more suited for a bedroom or radio than a concert. She played about seven spatial songs, which my friend compared to “new age” music. When I heard that, I tried not to laugh too loud. Novella was also delegated to the lip of the center stage, in front of the black, velvet curtain. It goes to show you that respect has to be earned in the music business because everyone has to start somewhere. Novella, you have talent, but if you want to play venues, you should start a band.

After a 25-minute set change, the telltale drum of “Lust for Life” began booming and the curtain opened to reveal Iggy’s band. Each member was decked out in a burgundy, satin jacket with black trim and black pants. With the “Lust for Life” intro continuing to build, those in attendance became more feverous as the anticipation grew for one of music’s greatest frontmen to arrive.

Finally, Iggy Pop stormed onstage just in time to belt out the song’s opening lyric “Here comes Johnny Yen again”. After the first number, Iggy greeted the audience with a unique wave that was sure to be seen by each upper section in the venue. Instead of beginning his wave at the elbow like the norm, Iggy began his wave at his shoulder and rocked his body to propel his entire arm back-and-forth (a larger-than-life gesture). Iggy subsequently continued to thank the crowd for “helping him find employment in his latter years.” Everyone got a good laugh from that remark.

Iggy Pop

Flanked by a bassist (Matt Sweeney of Chavez), drummer (Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys), lead guitarist (Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age) and two rhythm guitarists (Dean Fertita and Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens of the Stone Age) who also doubled on keyboards, Iggy’s band sounded amazing. I have never seen Iggy perform live before, and I was a little apprehensive as to how good the concert would be considering he isn’t exactly young. All of my fears were assuaged when Iggy exploded onto the stage wearing a snazzy grey suit, sans shirt, and later the crowd would discover his bright, red underwear (his pants kept slipping down, but thankfully he pulled his trousers up with each sag). The jacket had come off by the second song, and the bare-chested Iggy we have come to love was right standing before us and ready to rock. He still has the energy of a teenager.

The setlist didn’t disappoint. To appease people like me who were there equally to experience the phenomenon that is Iggy Pop and his music, Iggy’s band played other fan favorites like “Nightclubbing”, “The Passenger” and “China Girl”. Halfway through the set, Iggy brought out a stool and sat on it for a couple numbers. When not singing on the stool, he would shove the microphone down the front of his pants. When Iggy noticed the crowd’s reaction to his electronic phallus, he said with a wry smile, “Feels pretty good!” Typical Iggy.

Another attempt by Iggy to shock the crowd was during a prelude to a song when he said, “I wonder if we had a sit-in … talking about heroin. I wonder if … I wonder if I’d even enjoy it.” His delivery of that statement appears as if Iggy was actually considering it, providing a little extra shock to those unfamiliar with the drug. While Iggy didn’t engage in any of his previous, notorious antics like rolling in broken glass, vomiting and/or exposing himself to his fans, he did perform a stage dive — something he said he would stop doing after an accident in 2010. However, to the crowd’s delight, Iggy still took the plunge into the crowd at The Masonic.

After 14 songs, Iggy and his band left the stage before returning for an eight-song encore that culminated with “Success”. The song’s lyrics appear to tell the story of Iggy’s career, which has spanned nearly six decades. Overall, it was one of those magical concerts so engrossing that you completely lose track of time. Twenty-two songs in total for one performance — not bad for a 68-year-old rock legend.

Eagles of Death Metal prove that rock ain’t dead

Eagles of Death MetalPhotos by Mike Rosati // Written by Brett Ruffenach //

Eagles of Death Metal //
Great American Music Hall – San Francisco
October 26th, 2015 //

Sometimes it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to find a band that doesn’t have a laptop somehow involved in its live production. But have no fear, Jesse Hughes is here.

With a sold-out show at the Great American Music Hall last Monday, Eagles of Death Metal certainly challenged Gene Simmons’ belief that “rock is dead.” Coming to SF for the first time in five years, EODM brought a slightly older, yet no-less enthusiastic crowd with plenty of beards and flannels mixed in.

While EODM has garnered considerable popularity with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme on drums, it was clear right from the beginning that their live appeal comes from Hughes, the band’s vocalist and lead guitarist. As EODM took the stage with Pilot’s “Magic” playing over the PA system, Hughes emerged with his trademark suspenders and mustache, exuding more energy than any bandleader could possibly manage.

Without saying much, EODM jumped into “Bad Dream Mama” to the delight of everyone in attendance. Between Dave Catching’s guitar work, Matt McJunkins’ tenor bass and Homme’s machine-like drumming abilities, EODM brings a sound so loud, so in-your-face that you can’t help but bounce around. Quickly moving into “Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!)”, the crowd was entranced by the band as Hughes guided the quartet through the show.

Eagles of Death Metal

Sweating enough to go through more than a couple shirts, Hughes brought and maintained an energy unlike anything seen before. In between songs, he talked to the crowd about only the most important topics — the beauty of the women in SF or the drugs he may or may not have ingested prior to the show.

“Tonight is a special night,” the 43-year-old rocker said to his audience. “And ya’ll gon’ hear the litany of it soon. Can you dig it?!?!”

Hughes went on to explain that SF has a special place in his heart, as he once lived in the City and was happy to be back.

Then, like a manic Southern Baptist preacher, he told the crowd, “I love you, and I hope you have a good time tonight. Now let us dispense in the complexities of life and make it simple.”

Eagles of Death Metal

Just like that, EODM jumped into their most recent single “Complexity”. With most of the group’s tracks coming in at under three minutes in length, the show moved rather quickly from song to song. EODM’s translation of “Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)” from their 2004 debut album Peace, Love, Death Metal was particularly great, with Homme providing more cowbell than the most feverish Christopher Walken could possibly desire.

Not every song of EODM’s are just power chords, though. Halfway through the set, Hughes and company changed up the pace with “Already Died”, a heavier, slowed-down track that’s most notably filled with Catching’s fantastic guitar licks. But before the energy got too low, the band transitioned into “Stuck in the Metal” as the crowd went wild and didn’t stop. In the end, EODM’s setlist included more than 20 songs.

After a short set break, Hughes emerged for a solo encore during which he asked the crowd for requests. He played a solo version of “San Berdoo Sunburn” before the rest of the band came out to play a round robin of solos, which was easily the most awkward moment of the night.

EODM have the perfect style as a rock band, one that takes itself just seriously enough. As a whole, they are a hard, fast and tightly-wound production, with their silly lyrics and even sillier frontman bringing a perfect balance to what you want to see at a rock show. Closing with “Speaking in Tongues”, EODM walked off the stage at the Great American Music Hall knowing that they had accomplished what they came to do — to prove that rock ain’t dead.

Setlist:
Bad Dream Mama
Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a Bang!)
So Easy
Complexity (Boots Electric cover)
Kiss the Devil
Shasta Beast
Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.)
Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)
The Reverend
Cherry Cola
Got a Woman (Slight Return)
Already Died
Stuck in the Metal
Wannabe in L.A.
Save a Prayer (Duran Duran cover)
Anything ‘Cept the Truth
Miss Alissa
I Got a Feelin (Just Nineteen)
I Like to Move in the Night
I Want You So Hard (Boy’s Bad News)

Encore:
San Berdoo Sunburn
Got the Power
I Only Want You
Speaking in Tongues